ALAN POTTS is one of the more reclusive National Hunt owners who prefers to stay in the shadows.
However, the Yorkshireman could be a household name if his steeplechaser Sizing John – which he owns with wife Ann – wins the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup.
And it’s a distinct possibility – many form experts suggest the horse’s win in last month’s Irish Gold Cup is the best performance of those lining up on Friday in the absence of injury-hit King George Chase hero Thistlecrack.
Potts grew up in the South Yorkshire mining village of Great Houghton, near Barnsley, before inventing machines to improve the sizing process in mining engineering after setting up his business empire – Mining Machinery Development – in 1978.
He only became more involved in horse racing when he telephoned leading Irish trainer Henry de Bromhead to inquire about a point-to-point winner only to be told that it had “a leg” and was injury-sidelined.
Potts rewarded such honesty with a number of horses, not least Sizing Europe, who won a Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2011.
An owner not prone to changing trianers – or jockeys – on a whim, he’s now based in the Isle of Man where interview requests are politiely declined. That said, Sizing John – a perennial runner-up to this year’s Champion Chase favourite Douvan – has blossomed since switching from the stables of the aforementioned de Bromhead to the yard of Jessica Harrington, who trained the brilliant Moscow Flyer.
Victory in the Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles was followed by Irish Gold Cup glory at Leopardstown when Sizing John stayed best of all to beat Empire Of Dirt and Don Poli in a frantic finish.
A Grade One contest over three miles, the question now is whether the seven-year-old has the stamina for the extra two furlongs that he will encounter this week when taking on the Colin Tizzard pair of Cue Card and Native River.
“Sizing John has always given the impression that he stays very well. He galloped all the way to the line in the Irish Gold Cup,” said big race jockey Robbie Power.
“I suppose you don’t know until you try, but I’d be confident he will get the extra two furlongs and obviously a bit better ground would help.
“He’s run well twice at Cheltenham before over two miles and his big strength is his jumping.
“He’s very quick through the air and he gets that from having run over two miles in top-class races.
“On a line through Don Poli, he’s probably got the best chance of the Irish runners, but the one Irish horse I’d be afraid of is Djakadam as he’s going there fresh and it’s the first time he’s done that.
“It’s competitive Gold Cup and there’ll be a big field so you’ll need a lot of luck.”
Power is a versatile horseman – he’s competed as a showjumper at Hickstead – and he was the lucky man in the saddle when Silver Birch, a bargain buy from Doncaster Sales, won the 2007 Grand National for the then rookie trainer Gordon Elliott.
“I’ve been with Jessie 16 years now so it would be great to win a Gold Cup for her,” added Power.
Moon Racer will run in the Stan James Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival tomorrow, trainer David Pipe has announced.
The eight-year-old, the mount of Tom Scudamore, was also a leading fancy for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – the Festival curtain-raiser – but connections have decided to go for the big one with a horse, who will be running for just the third time over obstacles.
The final declarations are headed by the JP McManus pair of Yanworth and Buveur D’Air.
Ruby Walsh has sided with Limini over Vroum Vroum Mag in tomorrow’s OLBG Mares’ Hurdle.
Willie Mullins has won eight of the nine runnings of the contest, with the remarkable Quevega landing six consecutive renewals before Glens Melody and Vroum Vroum Mag struck gold in the last two years.
Keeper Hill – winner of a Bumper at Wetherby last April – has been given the go-ahead by trainer Warren Greatrex to run in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle. The mount of Gavin Sheehan, the six-year-old has won his last three race and will now step into Grade One company on Wednesday.
Former Bradford MP Gerry Sutcliffe, sports minister in Gordon Brown’s government, is the new chairman of Doncaster’s Northern Racing College in succession to Trevor Beaumont.